It remains the single most vital piece of advice I have ever been given by another writer. It was imparted by the matchless Joan Didion during an interview for YOU Magazine in San Francisco, mid-Eighties, when I was but a blade of grass in the lawn beneath the steeples of her Hemingway-inspired prose. Situation unchanged.
Lunch is time's thief, tearing scribes from their desks, luring motivation into the recesses of mid-day indulgence, and discarding it there with a sneer. Lunch divides the day, making a mockery of a morning's toil and rendering useless the flimsy hours thereafter. It is one of the reasons why I have long collected the better excuses for the cancellation of lunches I should never have committed to in the first place. Today's is a blinder and has been logged for future use. Do you think I'd get away with it?
'I've just returned from a holiday learning to kitesurf,' imparted the intended lunch date, 'and I have to see a doctor about my injuries. Call it a midlife crisis.' Though secretly delighted that an uninterrupted day of work now stretches before me - I'm ghostwriting a huge memoir for a formidable client - I couldn't help but wonder. Last year, my friend took up kayaking, and raised a tidy sum for charity - in the name of a friend's little boy who had recently died from a rare disease. Now kitesurfing. My initial thought being, for whatever reason, he is working his way through sports beginning with K. But Kabaddi and Karate fall before Kayaking in the alphabet, Kickball and Kickboxing precede Kitesurfing, and for the life of me I cannot imagine my friend, athletic and appealing for a fifty-something though he is, attempting Ken-Do, Knife-Throwing or Kung-Fu ...
He suggested further dates that I simply cannot commit to. Because Writers Don't Do Lunch. And anyway, would he still be alive? Would he have resisted the urge to hurtle on mindlessly through the sporting alphabet to the most life-threatening pursuits of our race's most gnashing dare-devils? Might he even, as we speak, be preparing to launch himself from Pyeongchang's mighty peaks in an attempt to confound the achievements of Eddie 'the Eagle' Edwards?
For the record, cocktails at around 5.30pm is the preferred slot. I usually feel deserving of a couple by then. On dry, sea-levellish land, with reasonable access to conventional forms of transport and a comprehensive beverage menu to hand. Soho is obvious.